Researchers Say More Knowledge About Coronavirus May Not Comfort You

According to Ohio State University researchers, knowing more about a novel virus doesn't necessarily help.

As coronavirus anxiety continues to increase, many people blame the panic on the lack of confirmed information out there about the novel virus. It's understandable to think that if we only knew more about COVID-19, like we know about the common cold or flu, we'd have less reason to worry. But a new study published in the journal Risk Analysis suggests that having more knowledge about coronavirus might not necessarily comfort you.

Researchers out of Ohio State University conducted an online survey of nearly 500 adults in Florida in Dec. 2016, asking them questions about the Zika virus, which had been declared a pandemic in February of that year. Given that one of the primary concerns surrounding the Zika virus was passing birth defects to a fetus, women who were pregnant or who wanted to get pregnant—and their partners—were unsurprisingly the most likely to say they were scared of the virus. But they weren't the only ones.

While the findings showed that people who didn't know very much about the Zika virus weren't planning on trying to obtain more information, the research indicated that people who rated themselves as highly knowledgeable were more likely to believe they didn't know enough.

"Novel risks like Zika or coronavirus may make some people react differently than well-known risks like cancer or the flu," Shelly Hovick, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

While this study focused on Zika virus, the researchers believe that the findings also apply to the way people are reacting to coronavirus.

"The Zika virus and the coronavirus have important things in common: In both cases, they are shrouded in uncertainty and have received a lot of media attention," Hovick said. "Our research looks at how people seek and process information when there is so much uncertainty."

Of course, there are also notable differences between the two. The primary concern surrounding the Zika virus was the possibility of it causing birth defects in infants, whereas coronavirus carries a large and mounting death toll, and it's spreading faster. Coronavirus has also significantly impacted day-to-day society, causing schools to close down, companies to tell workers to stay home, and an emphasis on social distancing.

Still, the Ohio State researchers' findings suggest that knowing more about a novel virus like coronavirus might not be as comforting as you might've thought.

"With the Zika virus, even the experts themselves didn't know much at the time. That's the same thing we're seeing with the coronavirus, and that's scary for people who believe they are at risk," said lead author Austin Hubner, a PhD student at Ohio State. "We found that the more people thought they knew, the more they realized they didn't know enough."

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more